The Illusion of Trump’s Mideast Peace Plan

Susan Walsh/AP Photo

President Trump flouted international law by signing a proclamation recognizing Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights, March 25, 2019.

Illusionists follow a standard formula: display an ordinary object (the pledge); make it disappear (the turn); and then, abracadabra, bring it back (the prestige). In truth, all the illusionist has done is distract the audience from the real action, which makes magic shows the perfect analogy to the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process. U.S. and Israeli illusionists have us focused on a plan that may never appear, while they are making the possibility of a two-state solution disappear.

The pledge: United States officials responsible for the peace process—President Trump, son-in-law Jared Kushner, former Trump Corporation attorney Jason Greenblatt, and former Trump bankruptcy lawyer David Friedman—have asked us to focus on what Trump boasted in 2016 would be the “deal of the century.” Since then, Kushner and Greenblatt have claimed to be crafting a peace plan. They have talked about the existence of a plan, but also have kept its details secret. Their hints suggest that the plan is long and detailed, perhaps 40 pages, will include economic matters and reference to borders, and is likely to contain issues that will please and displease both sides.

We’ve been told to keep our eyes out for the plan, because it will appear soon. The definition of “soon” itself has been a moving target, but it has proved effective in keeping our attention riveted on the mysterious plan.

The turn: In the meantime, these amateur peace-process illusionists have been busy making trouble. First they violated international law, including U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, which has been the basis for peacemaking since 1967, by declaring that the United States will no longer refer to any of the occupied territories as, well, occupied. Second, after moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem in 2017 and recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Trump said he was taking Jerusalem off the table. Third, they effectively removed half of the peace negotiators by closing all channels of communication with the Palestinians, namely, the PLO office in Washington and the American consulate in Jerusalem. Fourth, they cut aid to the U.N. agency helping refugees, effectively punishing the very Palestinians who, we are told, will be the beneficiaries of the still-hidden plan. Finally, by announcing U.S. support for Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, thereby flouting international law once again, they sent an unmistakable signal that it will be acceptable for Israel to annex parts of the West Bank, provided Israel can argue that it won the area in a “defensive” war. While we’ve been waiting for the plan, the illusionists pulled a bait and switch and changed the facts on the ground while we were distracted. They aren’t finished, however.

The prestige: The illusionists’ work is really only a prelude to the grand finale, whose outcome will be shaped by last week’s Israeli election.

There are two possible (but predictable) ways this show will end. One alternative is to continue to distract us with the illusion (a plan is coming, it will be great) while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu forms his next coalition. To sweeten the pot of what Netanyahu can offer to the right-wing parties that he wants and needs to include in his government, the illusionists will remain silent while Netanyahu talks about annexation in the West Bank. Under this option, the plan will not only remain hidden, it will likely never be revealed. Rather the grand finale will be further annexations by the Israelis, with tacit U.S. support, burying the two-state solution.

A second possible finale is that the illusionists make the plan public now, even while Netanyahu is forming his government. While we the audience gasp at the audacity of the plan—no state for the Palestinians, no Palestinian capital in Jerusalem, permanent Israeli security control in the West Bank, economic promises designed to gain Palestinian buy-in—Netanyahu feigns consternation and wrings his hands. He complains about the painful steps being asked of Israel by the United States, and then reluctantly says, “Yes, but.” Even though the plan holds out everything Netanyahu wanted, it’s still not enough. Israel, he announces, trusts the United States and thus is ready to work on the U.S. plan, but of course Israel also expresses dozens of reservations, most of which gut the plan of meaning.

Meanwhile the Palestinians, seeing the plan for the first time, understand there is virtually nothing to applaud and much to decry. They say, “No.” The illusionists and Israel cite Palestinian rejection as evidence that the Palestinians never intended to compromise, that there is no partner for peace. The “prestige” leads to an open road, free of roadblocks, on which Israel, with U.S. support, can achieve a new reality in the occupied territories—Israeli sovereignty over parts of the West Bank and permanent Israeli control over the Palestinian population, who remain without political rights.

The illusionists bow and expect our applause for a magic trick well performed. However, we know we have been hoodwinked. We demand our money back for this lousy magic show.

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